unbalanced scales Need A Public Defender?

You're Screwed!
American criminal justice system sucks for the poor and indigent.
  "The right to effective counsel is at the heart of our criminal justice system"
-- Witold Walczak, Director, Pittsburgh Chapter, ACLU

There is a crisis in America!
Some of it's citizens are being denied fair treatment in the courts.
Some are denied the guaranteed rights to "a fair and aggressive" defense when charged with a crime. Who are these people? They are the ones who are unable to hire an attorney and to pay for legitimate legal counsel. They are the nation's poor and indigent.

There is much to be said, and arguments to be made for and against, as to why 80% of America's prison population is represented by 12% of it's citizenry, minorities. I'll venture a guess it has something to with the quality of legal counsel.

Bring plenty!

Bring your own Vaseline!

In this country, a person is presumed guilty until proven innocent. Procedures are used to insure easy prosecution and there is a disincentive for the prosecutor to make a reasoned determination of culpability. It is up to the citizen, often at great expense, difficulty, and often luck, to prove innocence. But the consequences of a guilty plea are too great.
--article from scn.org

I have a personal horror story with regards to my having to seek counsel from a Public Defender. I am not a minority, I am Caucasian American citizen taxpayer who found himself charged with a petty crime. I had experienced a financial setback and I was unable to afford private legal counsel. This matter involved a disagreement over a sum of $800. An attorney informed me his fee to represent me in court is $5000. That's $5000 for an $800 matter. I was already aware that all I had to do to have the charges dropped was to simply pay the $800. But I wanted my day in court. I had plenty of evidence to show that the other party owed me an amount well in excess of $800. Negotiatons had broken down between me and the other party. They were instructed by their counsel to simply have me arrested and this action would surely force me to settle.

> U.S. Fails to Provide Adequate Legal Services for Poor People
> Report: Virginia defense for poor is lacking
> Representation unequal - PittsburghLIVE.com
> Public defender crisis spills onto the streets
> Just Cause Law Collective: Working With a Public Defender
> Guilty until proven innocent!
> Presumed Guilty: Full Review by Terry Diggs
> Indigent Criminal Defense: A National Perspective - a BJS report
> Legal Representation
> Uncertain over future pay, few lawyers willing to represent poor
> Prison Talk Online - County Says It's Too Poor to Defend the Poor
> Pennsylvania Defender Assessment Press Release
> ACLU : Promise of Right to Counsel for Poor Remains Illusion 40 Years After Gideon v. Wainwright
> ACLU: Citing Report, ACLU and NACDL Say Defense of Poor in Jeopardy in Venango County, PA
  My experience with the Public Defender's office was one worth telling you about. First, I applied for services, financial statements, etc., and I was accepted. However, I could not get an appointment at all. Our hearing at the District Justice's office was set. My counsel told me to meet him 15 minutes before the hearing in the courthouse lobby. That 15 minutes was our total case preparation. When I got to court I asked about my evidence, calling witnesses, etc. My counsel replied by asking me if I had the $800 with me. I informed him that I intended to defend, and he gave me a glance that looked like, "Your kidding?" The district attorney asked me if I wanted to have the hearing or waive the case to the county court. Since I had no preparation or witnesses I waived it and we had no hearing that day.

Months later, and no returned phone calls from my defender, I received a letter to appear in court to enter a plea, and to meet counsel in the court house 15 minutes before the appearance. During that brief meeting none of my questions were again answered. No interest in my witness list. We appeared before the judge and I entered a not-guilty plea.

Again, months of unreturned phone calls to my defender, trips to his office, and no satisfaction. I was informed I had better have the $800 by court day. It had finally sunk into my thick skull that I was not going to get any defense whatsoever from the Public Defender. And I could not afford private counsel. My business had taken a hit because of the actions of the party who had me arrested. I decided to settle the matter and pay the $800 to the court, which turned out to be $930 with court costs.

I couldn't even get a response from the Public Defender to settle the case. I went to the County Court Administrator, who had been helpful before in answering some of my questions. She made the arrangements to pay the court and to have the charges dropped. The Administrator agreed with me that the Public Defender's office needs a major overhaul, told me that she is inundated almost daily with complaints about the Public Defender. She said that it will take some disgruntled ex-client like myself to attend a County Commissioner's meeting and file a formal complaint. In Northumberland County, Pennsylvania, the Public Defender works directly for the County Commissioners, and they provide complete oversight of it's goings on. County Commissioners! Elected public officials, farmers, businessmen, who have no legal training whatsoever. They have their own legal counsel, paid for the taxpayers.

The system is broken. Had I been charged with a felony, guilty or innocent I would be sitting in jail instead of authoring a website. I had to go through the humiliation of being fingerprinted. Now I'm "in the system". A proper defense for my case would have been to countersue in order to make my case. The Public Defender doesn't handle that. The Public Defender doesn't handle anything but to aid it's clients in entering guilty pleas.

I want to mention that the local newspaper, the Sunbury Daily Item, didn't want to hear anything about my case. An expose would be more than they could handle. An article on the matter of how the Public Defender handles it's cases just might result in a flood of rudely treated and wrongly convicted citizens to cause an uproar in this otherwise peaceful rural Pennsylvania county. A well kept secret with no voice to complain. Skeleton in the closet. Don't rock the boat. Too hot to handle!

A few months after my incident I read in that same newspaper that the county's public defenders are to receive a substantial wage increase. I almost puked.

Neil Wingenroth
Mt Pleasant Mills, Pennsylvania
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  Bend over!

"If Innocent, Do Not Plead Guilty, Even to a Reduced Charge"

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